Realistic landscape painter David Gregory has done thousands of paintings, etchings and murals over the past three decades, many of beloved scenes in Hawaii, California and Italy. Today, he paints from a studio in a converted milk house that was once part of the oldest family dairy farm in Canton.

Canton couple turn farmhouse into stylish, energy-efficient home


Realistic landscape painter David Gregory has done thousands of paintings, etchings and murals over the past three decades, many of beloved scenes in Hawaii, California and Italy. Today, he paints from a studio in a converted milk house that was once part of the oldest family dairy farm in Canton.


Central Illinois farm fields surround the studio. Last winter, Gregory watched from studio windows as three large coyotes loped across corn stubble, panting billowing clouds of frozen breath. This fall, 45 no-till acres of soybeans stretch to a distant timberline.


In this rural setting, Gregory and his wife Renee research and practice a greener lifestyle. The once drafty farmhouse is now snug and energy efficient. They have a Honda Civic hybrid and an attitude about ecology. They are researching wind turbines as an option for supplying electricity to the studio.


The brick farmhouse was built 80 years ago in the footprint of a wood-framed farmhouse destroyed by fire. The house has geothermal heating, cooling and hot water, blown-in insulation and low-E double-glazed windows.


The couple use compact fluorescent lights and recently moved a 200-square-foot glass greenhouse to the property where they grow vegetables for salads, herbs for cooking and flowers for landscaping.


They recycle plastic, tin, aluminum and newspapers. They even recycle water from the sump pump which is stored and then used for landscape watering.


Renee Gregory has environmentalism in her genes. She grew up in Peoria near the Holiday Inn Brandywine. Her father, who taught at Woodruff High School, rode his bike to work and was into ecology and recycling by the late 1960s.


She and her first husband purchased the old Canton farmstead almost 20 years ago. He died in a construction accident in Canton. Before he died, the two had admired the landscape paintings of an artist who grew up in Canton and then moved to California and Hawaii. That was David Gregory.


Renee Gregory said she and her first husband bought one of those landscapes and David Gregory, who was also married at the time, delivered it to the farmhouse when he was home from California visiting family.


"He says he doesn't remember that," said Renee Gregory.


The couple met again after she had become a widow, and he had divorced and moved back to Canton to help care for his elderly mother before she died. Now he helps care for his father, 93.


Renee Gregory's four children help with work around the property. Her sons helped David Gregory renovate the old milk house into an artist's studio.


Gregory divides his painting time between the studio and his father's kitchen table. His work is sold nationwide.


He recently pointed to one of his painting of taro harvesting on Kauai.


"That is one of my favorite places on the island," he said. "Eventually, we'll go back to California or Hawaii.


"But here there are changes throughout the seasons. The 45 no-till acres alternate between corn and soybeans. With soybeans you can see all the way to the tree line. With corn, the view is entirely different. We have deer, wild turkeys, Canada geese, coyotes, bluebirds and barn swallows. I feel I've just started painting the Illinois landscape."


An addition on the old farmhouse includes a large kitchen-family eating area on the main level and a master bedroom on the second floor. The addition also expands the front living room. Outside, the bricks match so closely, a casual observer wouldn't perceive an addition was built onto the house.


The new kitchen has mission-style oak cabinets made by Amish craftsmen. By switching from incandescent bulbs to CFLs, the kitchen lighting went from using 845 watts of electricity to 170 watts with the same amount of light. New frosted bulbs make the light softer than the harsh light of original CFLs.


There were once two barns on the property. Rotting wood and disrepair meant one had to be torn down recently. The other, older barn was once on a farm near Table Grove. When the U.S. government bought land there to establish Camp Ellis, a prisoner of war camp during World War II, farmers sold some of their buildings which would have otherwise been torn down.


The barn, originally constructed in the late 1800s, was purchased, dismantled, labeled and reassembled on the Rowley Dairy Farm, which once operated on the Gregorys' property.


"It needs a new roof, but it's pegged with hand-sawn timbers. It's well worth saving," Gregory said.


Beyond this red barn are the bluebird houses and apple orchards evident in some of his landscape paintings.


He and his sister recently had 2010 calendars printed with his landscapes. They plan to sell them during Spoon River Drive, an annual fall foliage tour that goes past the farmstead.


Clare Howard can be reached at (309) 686-3250 or choward@pjstar.com.


On the Web:


David Gregory's Web site: http://www.davidgregoryart.com